Friday, April 06, 2007

Great British Travesty!

I have been watching Great British Menu all week and I will have to stand up and say I really don't like Sat Bains! I thought John Burton Race had a terribly high opinion of himself last year but Sat takes the slow cooked, freeze dried biscuit. Poaching an egg in a water bath for two hours just seemed so wrong. And the muscovado sugar jelly cubes with the sole, please? I don't know all the chefs taking part but I'm sure this will be one of the most disparate pairs, their style of cooking so opposed that there could never be a meeting of forks or minds. It was a similar thing with Atul Kochhar last year, it was so obvious when the dishes were presented to the judges what had been conjured up by Gary Rhodes and what had been lovingly created by Atul were poles apart.

I've seen Atul Kochhar on Saturday Kitchen and he seems and awfully nice person and I'm sure his food tastes fantastic but it is still Indian food, fantastic Indian food maybe even Anglo-Indian food but I really can't except that it's truly British. And I know British food has a long tradition of incorporating exotic flavours of mace, nutmeg, saffron and cinnamon if you could afford it, but I’m not so sure about garam masala and turmeric. I guess I am just biased against Indian food as so far have never enjoyed any Indian food and have no Indian food references, but I know many would totally oppose my view and as 'curry' seems to been adopted as the quintessential British dish (in some polls) I will have to stand corrected! But if you wanted to, I guess you could also argue that French cooking has also played a large part in the history of English food. If you had the funds you may well have employed a French chef and there was a time when you may have eaten very similarly in both Britain and France. Not surprisingly, certainly the North of France and the South of England would share a very similar climate and comparable ingredients would have been available but somewhere on the way we in Britain seemed to develop a taste for notoriously plain and simple food and the French for one embraced sauces and a reputation for fancier food.

And I know it really has no bearing on anything at all but I was very intrigued to note that out of the 3 three-star and 13 two-star British restaurants that Michelin deign to award their coveted stars to possibly only Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck and Patrick Guilabaud in Dublin don’t have their menus oozing Frenchness. And you could argue that despite Patrick Guilabaud’s Irish cooking with Irish food he does pepper the menus with a lot of French phrases. I didn’t even check the 106 one-star establishments! And yes I know that some would say that the Michelin Guides are notoriously biased towards French food but it’s all rather interesting. If that is so, if out of the 16 best (according to Michelin) restaurants in Great Britain you can find mainly French food, how on earth are we ever going to get Great British cuisine recognised for how good it could be and get the deserved accolades. And if the premise of this competition is “to show the French a thing or two” – according to the increasingly annoying Jennie Bond we will have to hope that they leave their Michelin guides at home! And whilst we’re on the subject on Jennie Bond being irritating, what’s with all this mentioning of French terms in whispered tones? – yes we call those fluffy things soufflés, pan frying is more commonly known as sautéing and a terrine is never called a meatloaf whatever you think Jennie!

The whole foundation of the competition is slightly flawed as on one hand they require exclusive use of regional, seasonal ingredients but they also want to see stupendous British cooking showcased. Last year you saw Richard Corrigan don a pair of waders to meet his salmon, Marcus Wareing joining the fisherman in search of the brown shrimp for his tian, Nick Nairn mingling with the roe deer that would form his esteemed saddle of venison and then Atul Kotchher visiting Smithfield's meat market. Not so much getting in touch and being at one with his produce!

I guess taking the concept of the show to its natural conclusion it would be ideal if the chosen chef only had to step out of his kitchen and be surrounded by all the ingredients he required. Maybe that would be somebody like Raymond Blanc. He can step out of his Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons into his fabulous extensive kitchen garden. But of course he's French, living in England but cooking French food. Could it be called Anglo-French food and therefore make Raymond eligible for the Great British menu? What about Giorgio Locatelli, is his Anglo-Italian? I guess this one could run and run.

We are so lucky with the sheer choice of global cuisines to select from in the UK. You can really tuck into any nationality of food you set your little hungry heart upon. With this sort of competition you would think we should have chefs who are completely passionate about food that it grown and reared locally. Galton is totally devoted to the prime fish, seafood and vegetables on his doorstep. Even though he has a Marvin the Paranoid Android demeanour with the weight of the entire culinary world on his shoulders, he would do Britain proud in Paris. I can imagine Sat strutting around attempting to show any passing French chef how to suck ouefs and entirely unnecessary slow cooked for 2 hours oeufs (count them, 2 hours!) in a water bath at that!

Clearly this has all distressed me greatly, I am sorry that Galton was robbed! It has inspired D and I to expedite our plan to visit Morston Hall and see what his food really is all about as I always thought that his cookbooks were fabulous. I am sure it will be little consolation to Galton, but we will visit nevertheless. And if I find myself in Nottingham and rather peckish, what would I do? Well, there’s generally always a Pizza Express isn’t there?!

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